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Ben B.
Social Studies Tutor; Researcher; Artist; Storyteller
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Shakespeare
TutorMe
Question:

What is the significance of "the fool" in Shakespeare's plays?

Ben B.
Answer:

Shakespeare's fools come in a range of forms, scattered across his many plays. He may be a noble, a drunk, a musician, or a madman, but his role is always the same. In a world defined by strict social hierarchy, the fool walks between worlds, and defies conventions. The fool in many ways is removed from the reality in which they dwell, and is therefore free to observe and influence those around them in unforeseen ways. Through their guises of humor, madness, or mystery they are able to break social barriers and structures that would inhibit members of his society or period. This allows them to criticize kings and instruct princes. They are philosophers and comedians, but most importantly they speak wisdom. Their words, however convoluted and strange, are full of universal truths and powerful lessons.

International Relations
TutorMe
Question:

How is China's domestic political climate influencing its actions in the South China Sea?

Ben B.
Answer:

At the present, US-China relations hinge on the small cluster of cays known as the Spratly Islands. According to China’s central government, this strip of land falls within Chinese territorial waters. The US and its allies in the ASEAN have disputed this claim; the Philippines is currently trying China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. China’s refusal to accept the verdict of this ruling carries with it grave implications, but also sheds light on the state of the country’s domestic political climate. At present, President Xi Jinping is showing a growing concern over domestic nationalist groups. It would seem that the central government fears that if China fails to stand up to western political/military pressure, it risks sparking dangerous domestic pressure from enraged nationalists at home. This would suggest that government’s cultivation of hyper-nationalism makes retaliatory action against foreign encroachment much more likely, and creates a political climate that denounces moderates and reformists alike. This new conservative political climate bolstered by an ever growing defense industrial base has naturally given rise to a combative foreign policy. Some critics may support a strategic approach of containment, one that relies on a decrease in US naval operations in conjunction with increased support to regional allies. However, it is unlikely that this approach will contain a country riding a wave of nationalism.

World History
TutorMe
Question:

Was Stalin’s transformation of Soviet society and its economy in the 1930s a success?

Ben B.
Answer:

By the beginning of WW2 and the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, it was clear Soviet ideology had been supplanted by the material needs and desperation of the Russian populace and its leaders. The state, swept up in the economic nightmare of post war consolidation, lost its value of political freedom in its desperate need to survive. People needed to eat. The state became obsessed with providing for its citizenry and soon realized collective action and democracy were hugely ineffective. The state became gradually more & more centralized in an effort to control an economy in chaos. The result was nationalization of agriculture, industry and all means of production as well as state education and other facets of public life. Thus, the culmination of Russia’s postwar fury and chaos was the need for unified strength and direction. With a firm understanding of this, claims that Stalin was driven solely by his own ambitions seem empty. It would seem he was a man caught between the realities of his country and a vision he hoped to achieve. As with all totalitarian regimes, this struggle was made manifest in the hardships of collectivization, industrialization, and the purges he carried out. He viewed sacrifice as a necessary evil in the development of Communism. This same sentiment is echoed by John Scott’s analysis of the purges in his book Behind the Urals. “The purge had devastating effects on several millions of soviet citizens, who were arrested and exiled. Most of these people were innocent, but some were guilty, and some, like Udkin, might have become excellent Nazi fifth columnists. Stalin considered the investment a good one.” (206) It is impossible to rightly justify the killing of millions for an ennobled cause. However, Scott’s words at least give us an understanding of the rational. Scott in the years directly following his departure from Magnitogorsk, where he worked as a welder, and in the many iterations of his autobiography, struggled with the brutality of the purges, which he claims broke his spirit. “I mentioned this to Syemichkin when I went around to bid him good-bye. His attitude was much mire sane and balanced than mine, ‘if I am not mistaken,’ he said, ‘you in America tolerated chattel slavery for nearly a century after your great constitution of freedom went into force. You elections were travesties of universal suffrage during the first decades after your revolution. Our Soviet constitution is a building, and we will built it too.” (247) Having internalized this message, he finally asserts Stalin’s course was just. “He had done well in steering the Soviet Ship of State through the stormy seas of recent European politics. He might make mistakes sometimes but by and large he knew his business.” (264) It would seem that for Scott the ends did indeed justify the means. From a purely materialistic standpoint, Russia was stronger than it ever had been. Its population was well trained, optimistic and educated. Once again in the course of history we are confronted with a titanic figure whose accomplishments and crimes are so great and horrific they seemingly depart from the realm of human rational. However, fair analysis brings us understanding. In his 'Life of Nicias', Plutarch rightly states 'detail' is never 'unnecessary', because it contains fundamental truths: '… passing on the essence that promotes the appreciation of character and temperament.' Thus, as historians we cannot be caught up in easy assumptions or jump to conclusions. A balanced analysis wipes away the prejudice of history and allows us to examine our own past on level footing. Some useful sources: Marjorie L. Hilton, Selling to the Masses: Retailing in Russia, 1880-1930 Geoffrey A. Hosking The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from within Simon Sebag Montefiore, Humanizing Stalin? BBC News Raskolnikov's Open Letter to Stalin. Joseph Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR John Scott, Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel

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